BEIRUT (AFP) – Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema met Lebanese leaders Saturday in a last-minute push to choose consensus candidates for next week’s presidential poll in the divided state.
D’Alema, who arrived in Beirut overnight, began a series of meetings with members of the Western-backed ruling coalition and the Syrian-backed opposition who have yet to reach a compromise ahead of a November 23 deadline to elect a new president.
He held talks with Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun and was also due to meet with Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, parliament speaker and opposition leader Nabih Berri as well as Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir.
D’Alema’s trip comes amid international efforts to break the deadlock threatening the presidential election in parliament next Wednesday.
During a visit to Beirut on Friday, UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned Lebanese leaders that their country stood on the brink of an “abyss” if they failed to put their differences aside to elect a new president.
Three special parliament sessions to elect a president have already been postponed because of the deadlock and there are fears that the last-chance vote on November 21 could meet the same fate.
The crisis is the country’s worst since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war and there are fears the conflict will lead to two rival governments.
But cautious optmism has prevailed since Friday, when Sfeir drew up a list of candidates to the presidency, a post traditionally reserved for the Maronite community in Lebanon.
French charge d’affaires Andre Parant, whose country is leading international efforts to end the crisis, said the cardinal submitted the list on Friday to Berri and parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri.
“Berri has received the list and he is expected to discuss it with Saad Hariri so that they can agree on a consensus candidate,” a source close to Berri told AFP on Saturday.
Berri does not wish to disclose the number or names of candidates on the list, the source said.
On Saturday, the leading An Nahar daily quoted Berri as saying that he will discuss the list with parliament majority leader Saad Hariri, and if they “agree on one or two or three consensus candidates we will go to parliament …and let the best man win.”
On Saturday, Beirut newspapers provided lists varying from six to 12 potential candidates.
All of them included three declared candidates — Nassib Lahoud and Boutros Harb, both of whom are backed by the ruling majority, and Michel Aoun from the opposition.
Other potential candidates named by the media were Robert Ghanem, a lawyer and member of parliament, top banker Joseph Tarabay and former finance minister Damianos Kattar.
Lebanon has been mired in political crisis, with pro- and anti-Syrian camps engaged in a power struggle since the 2005 assassination of Saad Hariri’s father, former billionaire prime minister Rafiq Hariri.
Hariri’s murder triggered international and domestic protests that forced Syria to end 29 years of military domination in Lebanon.
The Western-backed government has been paralysed since the opposition, which includes factions backed by Syria and Iran, withdrew its six ministers from the cabinet in November last year.